Frank Capra


Director
Frank Capra

About

Also Known As
Francesco Capra, Frank R Capra, Col. Frank Capra, Frank R. Capra, Lt. Col. Frank Capra
Birth Place
Italy
Born
May 18, 1897
Died
September 03, 1991
Cause of Death
Natural Causes

Biography

During the Great Depression, director Frank Capra became America's preeminent filmmaker, leavening despair with his irrepressible optimism of the Everyman triumphing over seemingly insurmountable odds. A true rags-to-riches story himself, Capra started his career as a comedy writer for vaudeville star Harry Langdon before turning to directing during the silent era. In 1931, he began his ...

Photos & Videos

Forbidden - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Dirigible - Movie Poster
A Hole in the Head - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Helen Howell
Wife
Actor. Married in 1924; divorced in 1928.
Barbara Stanwyck
Companion
Actor. Acted in five of Capra's films, beginning with "Ladies of Leisure" (1930) and ending with "Meet John Doe" (1941); had relationship in the early 1930s while she was still married to Frank Fay; Capra wanted to marry her but she refused him.
Lucille Florence Reyburn
Wife
Married engineer Francis Clarke Reyburn in 1928; widowed c. 1929; married Capra in 1932; had four children together; born on April 23, 1903; died on July 1, 1984; claimed to be a descendent of Horatio, Lord Nelson and Sir Thomas More.

Bibliography

"Frank Capra: The Catastrope of Success"
Joseph McBride, Simon & Schuster (1992)
"The Films of Frank Capra"
Ddonald Willis (1974)
"Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title"
Frank Capra, Macmillan (1971)
"Frank Capra: One Man--One Film"
James Silke (1971)

Notes

Credited as Frank R. Capra on early films

"It Happened One Night" (1934) was the first film to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay. No other film won all five major awards until "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 1975.

Biography

During the Great Depression, director Frank Capra became America's preeminent filmmaker, leavening despair with his irrepressible optimism of the Everyman triumphing over seemingly insurmountable odds. A true rags-to-riches story himself, Capra started his career as a comedy writer for vaudeville star Harry Langdon before turning to directing during the silent era. In 1931, he began his lifelong collaboration with writer Robert Riskin on socially-conscious films like "American Madness" (1932) and "Lady for a Day" (1933), which led to Oscar glory with the classic screwball comedy "It Happened One Night" (1934), the first movie to ever sweep the five major Academy Award categories. Capra then entered a fruitful period with "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), which he followed with the classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), starring James Stewart, who came to exemplify the director's prototypical idealist. During World War II, Capra made several acclaimed wartime propaganda movies, including "Prelude to War" (1942), which won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Upon returning to Hollywood, he reunited with Stewart on "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), a heartwarming tale that failed at the box office, but later became a perennial holiday classic. The director would make several more films over the next two decades before officially retiring and moving out of Hollywood, but "It's a Wonderful Life" would be his crowning achievement. With a career that celebrated patriotism, idealism and small-town American values, Capra's strength as a filmmaker marked him as a true giant of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Born Francesco Rosario Capra on May 18, 1897 in Bisaquino, Sicily, Italy, Capra was raised in a large family by his father, Salvatore, a fruit picker and grower, and his mother, Rosaria, who married Capra's father after his first wife died six months into their marriage. Capra celebrated his sixth birthday alongside fellow immigrants in steerage aboard the Germania, which was bound from Italy to the United States. After settling in Southern California, the classic rags-to-riches story was pure Horatio Alger, which saw the young man hock newspapers, sell fruit and play banjo in Los Angeles honky-tonks to make money. Having graduated from Manual Arts High School before his 16th birthday, Capra discovered that he was too young to attend college, which led to a year of working odd jobs to save up for his schooling. When he was old enough, Capra attended Throop Polytechnic Institute - later the California Institute of Technology - where he worked as a waiter, ran the student laundry, and worked at a power plant while studying chemical engineering. Adding to his already hectic schedule, Capra began editing his school newspaper, and in his senior year, served as a captain in the CalTech's ROTC unit.

After receiving a scholarship that allowed him to travel abroad, Capra earned a commendation from the National Research Council for his chemical research on an incendiary bomb. He graduated Throop with his bachelor's of science in 1918, though he still had a reserve commission with the Army. Despite wanting to go overseas during World War I, Capra was instead assigned to artillery school at Ft. Scott in San Francisco, where he taught ballistics and mathematics to artillerymen for the remainder of the war. But he soon caught a dose of the Spanish flu during the famed epidemic that killed an estimated 50-100 million people worldwide, leading to his medical discharge with the rank of second lieutenant. Following his army service, the unemployed engineer - who also happened to be the only college graduate among seven siblings - spent the next two years knocking about California, hustling a living as a poker player and selling wildcat oil stocks before achieving a measure of respectability peddling Elbert Hubbard's Little Journeys door to door. Seeing an ad for a new movie studio run by Shakespearean actor Walter Montague, Capra managed to talk his way into helming his first short film, "Fultah Fisher's Boarding House" (1922), a one-reeler based on the poem by Rudyard Kipling. In order to learn more about his new profession, he apprenticed in a film lab, eventually working as a prop man, film editor and gag writer for director Bob Eddy, before joining Hal Roach and later Mack Sennett, and climbing the ladder of film comedy.

Though remembered primarily today for his social comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, Capra developed his craft at the helm of a diverse body of work, with his first 21 features bearing almost none of the trademarks of his signature films. When vaudeville star Harry Langdon left Sennett for First National, Capra tagged along, successfully directing three vehicles for the popular silent comic, "The Strong Man" (1926), "Tramp, Tramp" (1926) and "Long Pants" (1927). But Landgon fired Capra and began taking control of his own career, which led to his precipitous decline. Meanwhile, Capra's big break came in 1928 when the president of struggling Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn, made him a company director, giving him carte blanche on the strength of his Langdon pictures. Over the next decade, Capra directed 25 films - nine features in his first 12 months alone - raising that studio almost single-handedly from Poverty Row to the ranks of major studio alongside MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros. and RKO. At Columbia, Capra became known as a reliable craftsman of efficient and profitable productions, regardless of genre. His early work included military-action dramas like the silent "Submarine" (1928), and talkies "Flight" (1929), and "Dirigible" (1931), all of which starred leading man Jack Holt. He also helmed newspaper stories like "The Power of the Press" (1928), starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as well as the Barbara Stanwyck melodramas "Ladies of Leisure" (1930), "The Miracle Woman" (1931) and "Forbidden" (1932).

It was the Jean Harlow vehicle "Platinum Blonde" (1931) that heralded the beginning of Capra's long-standing collaboration with screenwriter Robert Riskin, with whom his social consciousness suddenly emerged on "American Madness" (1932), the prototype for much of their work to come. Their first idealistic hero (Walter Huston) is a dedicated community banker who, much like James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," (1946), lends money to people whose only collateral is honesty. Capra demonstrated his mastery of the medium, using overlapping speeches that emphasized the naturalistic quality of the dialogue as increased crosscutting and jump cuts registered the panic and hysteria of the mob. However, having discovered a winning 1930s formula, Capra quickly abandoned it and Riskin for "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" (1933), his most elaborately designed film that recalled the style of Josef von Sternberg in its chiaroscuro lighting and exoticism. A tragic tale of a Chinese warlord (Nils Asther) who develops an unrequited love with an American emissary (Barbara Stanwyck) during China's Civil War, "Bitter Tea" was considered by some to be the director's masterpiece, even though it failed to generate much enthusiasm during its release.

Capra returned to Depression-era sentimentality with Riskin on "Lady for a Day" (1933), a comedy-drama about a Broadway street merchant (May Robson) whose rouse to keep her daughter (Jean Parker) living in luxury becomes threatened after learning she's about to marry a Spanish nobleman (Barry Norton). Nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Director, Capra suffered infamous public embarrassment when presenter Will Rogers opened the envelope and said, "Come up and get it, Frank," leading the director to run up on stage to accept his Oscar before realizing Rogers meant fellow nominee Frank Lloyd, who was nominated for "Cavalcade" (1933). But Capra soon made up for his faux pas with his next picture, the pioneering screwball comedy "It Happened One Night" (1934), which became the first film ever to sweep the five major Academy Awards. The film starred Claudette Colbert as a spoiled high-society girl who wants to marry a gallivanting playboy (Jameson Thomas) over the objection of her father (Walter Connolly). To keep her from marrying, her father isolates her on his yacht, which leads to her escape and encounter with an out-of-work newspaper man (Clark Gable). The bickering pair embarks on a madcap hitchhiking adventure that eventually leads to the mismatched pair falling in love. With snappy dialogue and the infamous scene where Colbert hails a car by exposing her leg, "It Happened One Night" became a huge hit and established Capra as a major director, following Academy Award wins for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Writing (Adaptation).

Following his unprecedented success with "It Happened One Night," Capra began to produce as well as direct all of his projects, creating a string of celebrated films championing the common man. First came "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), whose innocent and truly virtuous bumpkin, Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), confronts a corrupt and crazy world which does not cotton to his decision to give away his inherited millions. A key player in the film's success was the character played by Jean Arthur, a cynical reporter who anticipates audience skepticism and leads Deeds down a primrose path to his potential undoing, while managing to fall in love along the way. Of course, the eventual resolution at the sanity hearing is as unbelievable as the prosecution's case against Deeds, but the movie's message that goodness can ultimately triumph over evil was perfect tonic for the times. Once again, Oscar's fortunes smiled on Capra, who won his second consecutive Academy Award for Best Director. He went on to direct the adaptation of James Hilton's novel, "Lost Horizon" (1937), a philosophical drama starring Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt that centered on the enchanted paradise of Shangri-La. A vastly expensive undertaking - it cost more than $1.6 million, a huge sum at the time - "Lost Horizon" was plagued by cost-overruns, an extra 34 days of shooting, and a disastrous preview screening that forced Capra to sizably cut down the film. But when all was said and done, the film became a critical hit that was considered one of the best of the year, while earning several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

Continuing his string of iconic films, Capra went on to adapt the George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play, "You Can't Take It With You" (1938), which helped to perpetuate the director's utopian vision of the world and reportedly became the director's most profitable film. "You Can't Take It With You" was a whimsical screwball comedy about an eccentric family headed by a former businessman-turned-artist (Lionel Barrymore), who is happy spending all day painting despite his obvious lack of talent. But when one of the daughters (Jean Arthur) falls in love with her boss' son, the family tries and horribly fails to act normal in an effort to impress the in-laws. Once again, Capra found himself in contention for Best Director at the Academy Awards. His next film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), which was also his last film for Columbia, truly encapsulated the idea of idealism triumphing over evil. Capra discovered his best representative of this ideal in the form of actor James Stewart, who played a newly elected senator sent to do battle against crooked politicians in the name of "truth, justice and the American way." Though such easy cures for the political and press corruption so visibly illustrated were not readily available, the film exhibited the master director at work, using all the techniques at his disposal to pack an emotional wallop in every scene, particularly Stewart's famed emotionally draining filibuster. Long shots, quick cuts in close-up, and montages that conveyed an accelerated storyline without disrupting it complemented a stellar cast that helped deliver another Oscar-nominated masterpiece for Capra.

Capra moved on to direct the last of his so-called social films, "Meet John Doe" (1941), which happened to be the first of his independent ventures. The story focused on a female reporter, disgruntled from being fired, who causes a public sensation after writing a fake suicide note from a John Doe claiming to kill himself by jumping off of city hall. But when the public wants to meet said John Doe, a fascistic tycoon (Edward Arnold) with presidential ambitions hires a former ballplayer-turned-homeless man (Gary Cooper) to play Doe, using him as a springboard to launch his political aspirations. Though the film turned a profit, Capra and producing partner Riskin were forced to dissolve their production company due to excessive taxes. Meanwhile, Capra joined the rest of Hollywood in waving the flag during World War II, reentering the service to devote his filmmaking talents to the American propaganda effort. With his new commission as a major in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Capra directed a series of what he called his most important films for the U.S. War Department, including the "Why We Fight" series, which consisted of seven films like "The Nazis Strike" (1942) and the Oscar-winning "Prelude to War" (1942). After his service was completed, Capra left with the rank of colonel and received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945.

Capra's only commercial film to appear during the war was "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1944), a farcical comedy about a pair of spinster sisters (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) who poison lonely bachelors to put them out of their lovelorn misery. Meanwhile, their newly married nephew (Cary Grant) goes to great pains keeping his family's secrets away from his blushing new bride (Priscilla Lane). Adapted from the Joseph Kesselring play in 1941, the film remained on the shelf for three years before being released to near-universal praise. Once back in civilian clothes, the director went to work on the perennial Christmas classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), a picture that lost money at the box office during its initial release, but later became a yearly must-see yuletide movie. Capra considered it his greatest achievement, with time having borne him out as the sentimental tale continued to improve with age. For his examination of the human heart, he cast James Stewart as small-town Everyman George Bailey, whose ambitions to leave Bedford Falls and see the world have been thwarted by circumstances and his own giving heart. Having sacrificed his own education so his brother could have one, while protecting the town from his greedy banker boss, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), George thinks his life is a failure, leading him to contemplate suicide by jumping off a bridge. But a bumbling angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) intercedes, showing him how much Bedford Falls and his family truly needs him. Shot under the auspices of his newly-formed Liberty Films, "It's a Wonderful Life" was full of Capra's contagious optimism and faith in the basic goodness of people, perfectly captured with Stewart's iconic return to his town after thinking himself dead, wishing everyone and everything a "Merry Christmas."

The box office failure of "It's a Wonderful Life" presaged the fate of his subsequent five features, none of which found much success. One of the best of these was his next picture - and the last made for Liberty Films - "State of the Union" (1948), a lighthearted comedy based on the hit Broadway play about an idealist industrialist (Spencer Tracy) sickened by political corruption who decides to run for president. After selling Liberty to Paramount, Capra entered the waning years of his career, directing the musical comedy "Riding High" (1950), starring Bing Crosby and Coleen Gray, and another musical romantic comedy "Here Comes the Groom" (1951), also starring Crosby and Jane Wyman, before stepping away from Hollywood in 1952. He spent the next seven years working with CalTech for the Defense Department on a project studying psychological warfare, after which he went to India for a film festival as a U.S. emissary, only to have his credentials delayed for content in "State of the Union." During this time, he also wrote and produced four science-based educational documentaries for Bell Telephone: "Our Mr. Sun," "Hemo the Magnificent," "Strange Case of Cosmic Rays" and "Unchained Goodness." Capra returned to Hollywood filmmaking with "A Hole in the Head" (1959), which starred Frank Sinatra as a widower who stops at nothing to fulfill his dream of building a huge amusement park. Capra next directed what turned out to be his last Hollywood film, "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961), a remake of his own "Lady for a Day," starring Bette Davis as Apple Annie.

Capra tried one last time to mount a feature film when he went into pre-production on "Marooned" for Columbia in 1964. Frustrated with then-studio head Mike Frankovich for what he deemed unreasonable script approvals and budgets, Capra left the project and officially retired. Later in the decade, John Sturges took the reigns of "Marooned," which was eventually released in 1969. Meanwhile, Capra directed his last film, "Rendezvous in Space" (1964), which was made for the Martin-Marietta Corporation, builders of the Titan rocket boosters, and fell in line with the tradition of his great war-time documentaries. In 1967, Capra and his wife, Lucille, left Hollywood and relocated to La Quinta, CA, where the director spent the rest of his days publishing his memoirs, The Name Above the Title (1971), and giving lectures as a popular speaker on college campuses. After suffering a series of strokes in the 1980s that put him under 24-hour nursing care, Capra died in his sleep from a heart attack on Sept. 3, 1991 in his La Quinta home. He was 94. Capra left behind a legacy as a director who made movies with simple messages, which often required a suspension of disbelief in order to respond to them. His genius as a moviemaker was getting the audience past that hurdle and pulling mercilessly at the heart-strings. Francois Truffaut once said of him: "In recognizing the facts of human suffering, uncertainty, anxiety, the everyday struggles of life, Capra, with his unquenchable optimism, was a healing force. This good doctor, who was also a great director, became a restorer of men's spirits."

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
Director
A Hole in the Head (1959)
Director
Here Comes the Groom (1951)
Director
Riding High (1950)
Director
State of the Union (1948)
Director
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Director
Your Job in Germany (1945)
Director
Two Down and One To Go! (1945)
Director
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Director
Tunisian Victory (1944)
Director
Meet John Doe (1941)
Director
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Director
You Can't Take It with You (1938)
Director
Lost Horizon (1937)
Director
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Director
It Happened One Night (1934)
Director
Broadway Bill (1934)
Director
Lady for a Day (1933)
Director
The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)
Director
American Madness (1932)
Director
Forbidden (1932)
Director
The Miracle Woman (1931)
Director
Dirigible (1931)
Director
Platinum Blonde (1931)
Director
Rain or Shine (1930)
Director
Ladies of Leisure (1930)
Director
The Younger Generation (1929)
Director
The Donovan Affair (1929)
Director
Flight (1929)
Director
That Certain Thing (1928)
Director
The Power of the Press (1928)
Director
Say It With Sables (1928)
Director
So This Is Love (1928)
Director
The Way of the Strong (1928)
Director
Submarine (1928)
Director
The Matinee Idol (1928)
Director
Long Pants (1927)
Director
For the Love of Mike (1927)
Director
The Strong Man (1926)
Director
Fultah Fisher's Boarding House (1922)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Arriva Frank Capra (1987)

Writer (Feature Film)

Escape From It's a Wonderful Life (1997)
From Film ("It'S A Wonderful Life")
It Happened One Christmas (1977)
Story By
Westward the Women (1952)
Story
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Screenwriter
War Comes to America (1945)
Writer
Forbidden (1932)
Story
Flight (1929)
Dial
Say It With Sables (1928)
Story
His First Flame (1927)
Story
The Strong Man (1926)
Writer
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926)
Story

Producer (Feature Film)

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
Producer
A Hole in the Head (1959)
Producer
Here Comes the Groom (1951)
Producer
Riding High (1950)
Producer
State of the Union (1948)
Producer
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Producer
Here Is Germany (1945)
Producer
War Comes to America (1945)
Producer
The Stilwell Road (1945)
Producer
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Associate Producer
The Negro Soldier (1944)
Supervisor
The Battle of China (1944)
Producer
Tunisian Victory (1944)
Producer
Substitution and Conversion (1943)
Supervisor
The Battle of Russia (1943)
Supervisor
The Battle of Britain (1943)
Producer
Prelude to War (1943)
Producer
Divide and Conquer (1943)
Producer
The Nazis Strike (1943)
Producer
Meet John Doe (1941)
Producer
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Producer
You Can't Take It with You (1938)
Producer
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Lost Horizon (1937)
Company
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Company
Broadway Bill (1934)
Company
It Happened One Night (1934)
Company
The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)
Company
American Madness (1932)
Company
Forbidden (1932)
Company
Dirigible (1931)
Company
The Miracle Woman (1931)
Company
Platinum Blonde (1931)
Company
Ladies of Leisure (1930)
Company
Rain or Shine (1930)
Company
Flight (1929)
Company
The Donovan Affair (1929)
Company
The Power of the Press (1928)
Company
Say It With Sables (1928)
Company

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

The Big Picture (1989)
Other
Splendor (1988)
Other
Android (1982)
Other

Cast (Special)

TCM Interviews: Frank Capra (2010)
Himself
Christmas at the Movies (1990)
George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)
Himself
The American Film Institute Salute to John Huston (1983)
Performer
The American Film Institute Salute to Frank Capra (1982)
Performer

Misc. Crew (Special)

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)
Other

Cast (Short)

Cavalcade of the Academy Awards (1940)
Himself
Another Romance of Celluloid (1938)
Himself
1936 Academy Awards - Raw News Footage (1936)
Himself

Writer (Short)

Know Your Enemy: Japan (1945)
Writer
Fiddlesticks (1927)
Writer
Saturday Afternoon (1926)
Writer
Super-Hooper-Dyne Lizzies (1925)
Writer
Every Man For Himself (1924)
Writer (Uncredited)
High Society (1924)
Writer (Uncredited)

Producer (Short)

Know Your Enemy: Japan (1945)
Producer
San Pietro (1944)
Producer (Uncredited)
Know Your Ally: Britain (1943)
Supervisor

Misc. Crew (Short)

The Screen Director (1951)
Archival Footage
Cavalcade of the Academy Awards (1940)
Supervisor

Life Events

1903

Spent sixth birthday in steerage on the "Germania" en route from Italy to USA; moved with family to California; sold newspapers and played banjo in Los Angeles honky-tonks to pay for education

1918

Enlisted in US Army as a private after college graduation; taught ballistics and mathematics to artillerymen at Fort Scott, San Francisco; demobilized with rank of second lieutentant

1922

Became a book salesman, selling Elbert Hubbard's "Little Journeys" door-to-door

1922

Short film directing debut, "The Ballad of Fultah Fisher's Boarding House/Fultah Fisher's Boarding House"; made in San Francisco for Shakespearean actor Walter Montague's new studio

1923

Worked as prop man, film editor and gagman for Bob Eddy

1926

Solo feature directing debut, "The Strong Man", starring Langdon

1926

Co-directed (uncredited) and co-wrote Harry Edwards' "Tramp Tramp Tramp", starring Langdon

1927

Went to NYC where he directed Claudette Colbert in her film debut, "For the Love of Mike"

1927

Last film with Langdon, "Long Pants"

1927

Co-scripted (with Arthur Ripley) Edwards' "His First Flame", starring Langdon

1928

Joined Harry Cohn's Columbia Pictures as a director; contract called for relatively paltry sum of $1000 a picture but gave Capra complete control of his projects, the first being "That Certain Thing"; helmed eight more features that year with "Submarine" establishing him as a bankable director

1929

First real talkie, "The Younger Generation"; "Submarine" had sound effects and snatches of dialogue

1930

First collaboration with screenwriter Jo Swerling, "Ladies of Leisure"

1931

First collaboration with screenwriter Robert Riskin, "Platinum Blonde"

1932

Fifth and last collaboration for 14 years with Swerling, "Forbidden"

1933

Earned first Academy Award nomination for Best Director for "Lady for a Day", adapted by Riskin from a Damon Runyan story

1934

First blockbuster hit, "It Happened One Night"; became first fim to sweep the top five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Riskin), Best Actor (Clark Gable) and Best Actress (Colbert)

1936

Weighed in with the first of his social comedies, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town", winning second Best Director Academy Award

1938

Earned third Best Director Oscar for film version of George S Kaufman and Moss Hart's stage hit, "You Can't Take It with You"; first of three films with actor James Stewart

1939

Earned Oscar nomination as Best Director for "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", with Stewart in the title role; last film for Columbia

1939

Formed Frank Capra Productions with Riskin

1945

Formed Liberty Films with production head Samuel Briskin, William Wyler and George Stevens which made only one film, "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), Liberty Films sold to Paramount in 1948

1946

Received last Academy Award nomination as Best Director for "It's a Wonderful Life", starring Stewart; Swerling contributed additional scenes

1950

Directed "Riding High", a remake of his earlier "Broadway Bill" (1934), starring Bing Crosby

1951

Reteamed with Crosby for "Here Comes the Groom"; 11th and last collaboration with Riskin

1952

Retired to his ranch; worked with CalTech on Defense Department project studying psychological warfare; went to India as US State Department emissary to a film festival that the USA feared would be controlled by Communists; had security clearance delays due to content of "State of the Union" (1948)

1961

Directed last feature "A Pocketful of Miracles", a remake of "Lady for a Day"

1964

Moved back onto the Columbia lot to begin pre-production on "Marooned"; blaming then-studio chief Mike Frankovich for forcing him to submit to what he considered unreasonable script approvals and budgets, left this pet film project and officially retired; picture eventually released in 1969 with John Sturges at the helm

1964

Shot last film, "Rendezvous in Space", a short made for the Martin-Marietta Corporation

1967

Left Hollywood with his wife to settle in La Quinta, California

Photo Collections

Forbidden - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Forbidden - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Dirigible - Movie Poster
Dirigible - Movie Poster
A Hole in the Head - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Frank Capra's A Hole in the Head (1959), starring Frank Sinatra. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
It Happened One Night - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934), starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Miracle Woman - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of Columbia's The Miracle Woman (1931), starring Barbara Stanwyck and David Manners and directed by Frank Capra.
Lost Horizon (1937) - Movie Poster
Here is the Window Card from Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1937), starring Ronald Colman. Window Cards were 14x22 mini posters designed to be placed in store windows around town during a film's engagement. A blank space at the top of the poster featured theater and playdate infromation. (The top has been trimmed from this example).
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - Title Lobby Card
Here is the Title Lobby Card from Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Meet John Doe - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster for Frank Capra's Meet John Doe (1941), starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
You Can't Take It with You - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You (1938). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Arsenic and Old Lace - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
It's a Wonderful Life - Lobby Card Set
Here is a lobby card set from Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
A Hole in the Head - Pressbook
Here is the campaign book (pressbook) for Frank Capra's A Hole in the Head (1959), starring Frank Sinatra. Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater.

Videos

Movie Clip

Big Picture, The (1989) - Only The Artistically Incorrupt Ending director Christopher Guest’s credits and incorporating uncredited Eddie Albert as the MC and two of the (highly satirical) student films up for awards at the (fictional) National Film Institute, (the first with cameos by Elliott Gould, June Lockhart, Roddy McDowall and Stephen Collins) Kevin Bacon (as nominee Nick, with girlfriend Emily Longstreth) in the audience, Jason Gould, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Dan Schneider his fellows, in The Big Picture, 1989.
Lady For A Day (1933) - Open, Apples Opening credits and first scene featuring Annie (May Robson) and a cop (Ward Bond) from Frank Capra's Lady For A Day, 1933, from a Damon Runyon story, also starring Warren William.
Lady For A Day (1933) - Nice Work Shakespeare Dave the Dude (Warren William) comes to Annie (May Robson) to buy his lucky apple, before her daily visit to butler John (Halliwell Hobbes) in an early scene from Frank Capra's Lady For A Day, 1933.
Lady For A Day (1933) - In Your Own Vernacular We’ve just met Guy Kibbee as “Judge” Blake, engaged in a pool hustle (Irving Bacon the dupe) when Shakespeare (Nat Pendleton) arrives, representing Dave the Dude (Warren William), to recruit him as a stand-in husband for dolled-up Apple Annie (May Robson), with Ned Sparks as Happy and Glenda Farrell as Missouri, in Frank Capra’s Lady For A Day, 1933, from a Damon Runyon story.
Lady For A Day (1933) - She Thinks I'm In High Society Dave (Warren William) and crew (Ned Sparks, Nat Pendleton) drop in on Annie (May Robson) who's in a panic over her daughter's visit, in Frank Capra's Lady For A Day, 1933.
State Of The Union (1948) - You've Cut Some Corners Industrialist Matthews (Spencer Tracy) visiting with political boss Conover (Adolphe Menjou), doesn't realize his estranged wife Mary (Katharine Hepburn) has arrived, then discussing a run for the White House, in Frank Capra's State Of The Union, 1948.
State Of The Union (1948) - Twelve Commandments Continuing their first scene together, maid Norah (Margaret Hamilton) in the middle as estranged wife Mary (Katharine Hepburn) discovers how close her potential-candidate husband Grant (Spencer Tracy) has become with his powerful mistress, in State Of The Union, 1948.
It Happened One Night (1934) - Long Line Of Stubborn Idiots Madcap heiress Ellie (Claudette Colbert) establishing bona-fides with some bite, for her father Alexander (Walter Connolly), opening Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, 1934, also starring Clark Gable.
Bitter Tea Of General Yen (1933) - Ready For The Slaughter Second scene for Barbara Stanwyck as Megan, arrived in strife-torn China to marry her missionary fiancè (Gavin Gordon, who appears shortly), with Clara Blandick her (probably racist) host, wondering aloud about an encounter with the title character, whose name she didn’t get, Frank Capra directing, in Columbia’s The Bitter Tea Of General Yen, 1933.
Bitter Tea Of General Yen, The (1933) - It Will Do You Good Innocent American Megan (Barbara Stanwyck), having been separated from her missionary fiancè in a riot t in revolutionary China, awakens to meet Mah-Li (Toshia Mori) for the first time and General Yen (Nils Asther), her somewhat scary rescuer, for the second, in Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea Of General Yen, 1933.
Bitter Tea Of General Yen, The (1933) - For Some Nameless Brats? Chinese warlord General Yen (Nils Asther) is counseled by his crooked American business associate Jones (Walter Connolly) and unmoved by brave missionary Dr. Bob Strike (Gavin Gordon, fiancè of top-billed Barbara Stanwyck) in Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea Of General Yen, 1933.
Bitter Tea Of General Yen, The (1933) - The Third Invitation American missionary bride and semi-willing captive Megan (Barbara Stanwyck) is startled from a nap (actually an erotic dream in which he himself appeared_ by General Yen (Nils Asther) but once more rebuffs his advances in Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea Of General Yen, 1933.

Trailer

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington - (Original Trailer) Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), Frank Capra's masterpiece about a naive young senator (James Stewart) who uncovers political corruption.
Pocketful Of Miracles (1961) -- (Original Trailer) Bette Davis plays Apple Annie in Frank Capra's last movie, Pocketful Of Miracles (1961).
Mr. Deeds Goes To Town - (Re-issue Trailer) When small-town poet Gary Cooper inherits a fortune, he has to deal with the corruption of city life in Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936).
It Happened One Night - (Original Trailer) A newspaperman (Clark Gable) tracks a runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) on a madcap cross-country tour in It Happened One Night (1934), directed by Frank Capra.
Arsenic and Old Lace - (Original Trailer) A young man (Cary Grant) about to be married discovers his two aunts are poisoning lonely old men in Arsenic and Old Lace, (1944).
Hole In The Head, A - (Original Trailer) Frank Sinatra is a single father whose swinging lifestyle could cost him custody of his son in Frank Capra's A Hole In The Head (1959).
Meet John Doe -- (Original Trailer) A reporter's fraudulent story turns a tramp into a national hero and makes him a pawn of big business in Meet John Doe (1941), directed by Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper.
State of the Union - (Original Trailer) Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, under the direction of Frank Capra, take on presidential politics in State of the Union (1948).
Westward the Women - (Original Trailer) A frontiersman (Robert Taylor) leads a wagon train full of mail-order brides in Westward the Women (1951).

Promo

Family

Salvatore Capra
Father
Fruit grower, fruit picker. Born in 1852; died in 1919; married Ignazia Catanese in 1878; died six months later; married second wife (Capra's mother) on August 8, 1879.
Rosaria Capra
Mother
Married Salvatore Capra on August 8, 1879.
Benedetto Capra
Brother
Born c. 1885; immigrated to USA in 1900.
Luigia Capra
Sister
Older; moved to USA with her husband c. 1906.
Ignazia Capra
Sister
Older; married; lived in Sicily.
Guiseppa Capra
Sister
Born c. 1889.
Antonino Capra
Brother
Born c. 1891.
Antonia Capra
Sister
Younger; born c. 1900.
Frank Warner Capra
Son
Producer, executive. Born c. 1933 received associate producer credit for John Sturges' "Marooned" (1969), a project his father had abandoned due to studio interference.
John Capra
Son
Born on April 12, 1935; died on August 23, 1938 after what was to be a routine tonsillectomy.
Lucille Capra
Daughter
Born on September 16, 1937.
Thomas Capra
Son
News director, TV producer. Born on February 12, 1941; executive producer of NBC's "Today" Show, beginning in 1990.
Frank Capra III
Grandson
Producer, director.

Companions

Helen Howell
Wife
Actor. Married in 1924; divorced in 1928.
Barbara Stanwyck
Companion
Actor. Acted in five of Capra's films, beginning with "Ladies of Leisure" (1930) and ending with "Meet John Doe" (1941); had relationship in the early 1930s while she was still married to Frank Fay; Capra wanted to marry her but she refused him.
Lucille Florence Reyburn
Wife
Married engineer Francis Clarke Reyburn in 1928; widowed c. 1929; married Capra in 1932; had four children together; born on April 23, 1903; died on July 1, 1984; claimed to be a descendent of Horatio, Lord Nelson and Sir Thomas More.

Bibliography

"Frank Capra: The Catastrope of Success"
Joseph McBride, Simon & Schuster (1992)
"The Films of Frank Capra"
Ddonald Willis (1974)
"Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title"
Frank Capra, Macmillan (1971)
"Frank Capra: One Man--One Film"
James Silke (1971)
"Frank Capra"
Richard Griffith (1951)

Notes

Credited as Frank R. Capra on early films

"It Happened One Night" (1934) was the first film to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay. No other film won all five major awards until "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 1975.

"I always felt the world cannot fall apart as long as free men see the rainbow, feel the rain and hear the laugh of a child." --Frank Capra (From "The Name Above the Title")

Capra often attributed his conversion to "social comedy" to a visit from a "faceless little man" introduced to him during a period of illness by a Christian Scientist friend. The man, whose name he never learned, pointed out that he was able to "talk to hundreds of millions, for two hours--and in the dark. The talents you have, Mr. Capra, are not your own, not self-acquired. God gave you these talents; they are His gifts to you, to use for his purpose." Inspired, the director set about conveying a message to the American people: "My films must let every man, woman, and child know that God loves them, that I love them, and that peace and salvation will become a reality only when they all learn to love each other." --Frank Capra (quoted in "World Film Directors", Volume One)

About "It's a Wonderful Life": "I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made. It wasn't made for the oh-so-bored critics or the oh-so-jaded literati. It was my kind of film for my kind of people." --Frank Capra

"I respect films, because I know what goes into them. Nobody starts out to make a bad film. I take my hat off to anyone who can complete a picture. They can't all be successes, because we're dealing with an art form, and there are no formulas. Mathematics and art don't speak the same language."The best pictures are yet to be made." --Frank Capra, on "The Merv Griffin Show", August 14, 1973 (From "The Complete Films of Frank Capra" by Victor Scherle and William Turner Levy. Citadel Press: 1992)

"Frank Capra made old-fashioned American values and crying in the movies a national pastime. He celebrated the noblest impulses of woman and man, showed all of us our dark side and then pointed a flashlight at the way out." --Steven Spielberg quoted in USA Today, September 4, 1991.

"Capra innovations included accelerated, faster-than-life pacing with overlapping dialogue; unaffected, conversational speech; removal of men's makeup, and the tape recording of previews to gauge audience reactions that might necessitate revisions.Noted for getting actors to perform at the top of their talent, Mr. Capra made stars of Harry Langdon, Jean Harlow and Barbara Stanwyck." --From The New York Times obituary by Peter B Flint, September 4, 1991.

Received Distinguished Service Medal from the US Army Forces in 1945

Awarded France's Legion of Merit Honor and the Order of the British Empire

In 1952, Capra was named US delegate of the International Film Festival in Bombay